Thursday, August 09, 2007

Where'd Ben Go?

Just the question made me want to cry.

"Where'd Ben go?"

It is a question she asks all the time. Daily, and more. Ada's interest in our 7 year old neighbor started when he and his mother moved in up the street, and has not waned, even as Ben has turned from a ceaselessly chatty preschooler into a serious and not always toddler-approving boy. Clad in clip-on tie and knee-high boots, Ben is a dreamer, a planner, a gardener and construction foreman to a crew only he sees. Ben was the one who suggested ways to catch my tulip thief. He told me why and how to enroll Ada in the public library's summer reading program. He has waxed eloquent about topics that I thought beyond a first grader's grasp, and showed me the Chinese characters he had been learning in school.

Ada always wants to see Ben, follow Ben, climb up to Ben's porch to find out what he is doing. Sometimes Ben was happy to oblige, talking to and directing her and generally giving her the attention she craved from him. Sometimes Ben did not want to play. To Ada, this was a blow, but she was almost as happy being around his stuff as she was being around him. His porch, filled with flat rocks, baskets of shells, bubble bottles and child-sized furniture, was a holy site; Ada's pilgrimages made as frequently as we let her.

After Ada made a particularly disruptive visit to his porch, Ben politely requested that she not visit when he was not there to supervise. Chris and I agreed, trying to limit Ada's visits so as to not further test the patience of this sweet boy.

So although Ada's question was not unusual, the answer was different today.

"Ben's at his new house. He moved to a new house, Ada."

I hoped that having just seen some close friends move from their "old" house to a new one, Ada might understand the move a bit, even if she didn't like the answer.

"Where'd Ben go?"

"He went to his new house. He and his mom moved into their new house. Do you want to look in the window?"

Hand in hand we climbed the porch steps. She looked hopeful that I'd made a joke, that she'd look inside and see Ben sprawled on the couch. We looked into the window at the empty living and dining rooms, and talked some more about Ben's move.

"Where is the couch?"

"Ben and his mom moved it. They moved it to their new house, with the table. Ben's bed is at the new house. His tent is at the new house."

"I want to see upstairs."

But we couldn't go upstairs, and Ada seemed to understand that there was nothing to see there anyway. We walked back down the steps, and moved down the block. Watching her move slowly down the sidewalk, I wiped away tears. But then she was looking back at me, calling "chase me!"

I always forget how strong she is. I imagine that every change or slight will wound her. I should know, after watching her respond to a scratch or skinned knee, that she is both resilient and brave. She took this in stride too. She will miss Ben for a while, but when she asks for him we can go into the backyard and play in the sandbox he gave her. And go up on his old porch to visit whoever moves in next.

Don't worry mama, I still have this guy to chase around


  1. Sigh. It is so much a part of life, people moving away. When J was 3, she became friends with an 8 year old boy across the street, who was surprisingly willing to hang out with her (and her little sister) -- he moved away a little over a year later, but we still saw him sometimes when we were still in Sacramento. (We still send him a Christmas card each year.)

    He came to Josie's 7th birthday party, which just thrilled her, but then as we were waiting with him for his dad to pick him up he started telling me that he now had a girlfriend -- and oh, my, you should have seen Josie's face.


  2. Our daughter is 2, soon 3. She has had to contend with disruptions to the norm, disruptions which I feared would harm her or upset her. She deals with them. This beautiful little person is tough, but I'm not.

  3. Ada's tough, you're right.

    I really,really hope that someone wonderful moves into Ben's house.

  4. (un)relaxeddad8/10/2007 2:23 PM

    That actually made me feel quite tearful. One of dudelet's friends moved to Monaco(!) and we were quite worried but, as you say, at this age (3.5 in his case), there's such a resilience. But he still asks about him...